HC Deb 09 November 1921 vol 148 cc373-6
45 Captain LOSEBY

asked the Prime Minister (1) if he is aware that treatment allowances upon which some 6,000 ex-service men depend are paid strictly upon the condition that these men consent to being confined in lunatic asylums, whereas the allowance is refused in respect of patients being treated, and anxious to be treated, in certain private institutions approved by the Board of Control, but to which the stigma associated with lunatic asylums is not attached; and why the allowance is not paid in the latter class of cases;

(2) if he is aware that, according to official figures, on the let January, 1919, 2,507 ex-soldiers were confined in lunatic asylums; that the figure had risen to 4,673 on the 1st January, 1921, and to 6,435 on the 27th October, 1921; if he is aware that bitter laments are continually emerging from the men so confined; and if, in view of the increase in the number of men so confined, he will consider the advisability of setting up a Commission comprised of Members of the Houses of Parliament to hear complaints and investigate any possible amelioration of the conditions governing the detention of these men?

The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. Macpherson)

I have been asked to reply. The Lunacy Law requires that every person who is certified as insane shall be sent to an institution approved by the Board of Control; save that under certain conditions a single patient may be placed in a private house not specifically licensed for the reception of lunatics. Treatment allowances are granted, and the necessary cost of treatment defrayed by my Department in respect of all certified patients whose insanity is due to war service, and who are receiving treatment in institutions, whether public or private, which have been approved by the Board of Control and by the Ministry.

I cannot, of course, speak for the ex-service men in asylums, the origin of whose unfortunate condition does not entitle them to the benefits of the Royal Warrant, but as regards certified "service" patients, it is certainly not accurate to suggest that any large number of complaints are received as to the conditions of their treatment. On the contrary, the number of complaints received is few, and, on investigation, they have invariably proved to have been made on unsubstantial grounds, or to have been of minor importance. When a complaint is made it is the practice for the institution to be inspected and the whole circumstances investigated by officers of my Department either alone or jointly with Commissioners of the Board of Control.

Perhaps I may inform my hon. and gallant Friend, and the House generally, that under an arrangement with the Board of Control, asylums are now visited by medical inspectors of my Department and the service patients personally interviewed. By these means I am kept in close touch with the conditions of asylums, and I do not consider that there is any ground for adopting my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion to set up a Commission of the House. I may add that I do not accept my hon. and gallant Friend's statement of the numbers of ex-soldiers in asylums in January, 1919, and January, 1920, as accurate. At the latter date the number of certified service patients was approximately 6,000.

Captain LOSEBY

Is there any single institution approved by the Board of Control other than lunatic asylums to which his Department can send ex-service men; and if I can produce tangible evidence to show that lunatic asylums, or some, at any rate, are highly unsuitable for ex-service men, and I succeed in making out a strong primâ facie case, will he then consent to advise the setting up of a Commission?


No, I think not. I should be glad if any individual Member of this House would visit any institutions under my control. I have taken the greatest interest myself in this particular branch, and, so far, I must honestly confess to the House that the complaints I have received are always on unsubstantial grounds, and I would beg the House to remember the unfortunate condition of the mind of the man who makes the complaint. Very often he thinks he has a grievance when, in reality, he has none.


Is it not a fact that to place large numbers of patients in these private institutions would cause a large drain on the financial resources of the right hon. Gentleman's Department?


Yes, that is true. The State, in my judgment, is behaving very generously, and quite rightly, but I have consistently refused to mix a patient who has been certified with one who has not.


Why is the allowance not paid to ex-service men other than those in lunatic asylums? Why is any distinction made?


That is not so. If a service patient—by that I mean a patient whose mental illness is due to service—has been sent, with the consent of the Board of Control, to a private institution, then the Ministry of Pensions pays an allowance.


May I ask whether the private institutions approved by the Board of Control are not also periodically inspected by the Department?


Certainly that is so.

Captain LOSEBY

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that his own Department has definitely refused to recognise certain private institutions approved by the Board of Control?


I shall always be glad to hear of any particular case. I know the case that my hon. and gallant Friend has got in mind. If I may say so, he is frankly obsessed by this particular case. The house in question is a small building containing about 16 people, with very little garden and no workshops of any sort or kind. Here I am asked to send patients of mine to mix with certified lunatics. I refuse to do so.

Captain LOSEBY

Does my right hon. Friend know that he has never been asked to do anything of the kind?


This is developing into a Debate.